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The Great American Cookout

Hotdogs, hamburgers and fried chicken. Potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans. Beer, soda and fruit punch. All the ingredients of an ol' fashioned cookout. Kinda makes your mouth water and your stomach grumble, doesn't it?

But wait! Before you get up, gather up your friends and drag the family into the middle of the woods so you can light food on fire and get rambunctious with your buddies, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) has some tips that will help you have a safe and successful cookout. And, if you're good, they'll even let you hold the spatula.

For picnics, the NFPA recommends:

  • Plan just the right amount of foods to take so you won't have to worry about the storage or safety of leftovers.

  • For safe food handling, don't use recipes that contain raw eggs, such as cream pies or homemade ice cream.

  • Choose a picnic location with washing facilities or pack disposable towelettes, to prevent the spread of bacteria.

  • Pre-cook food in plenty of time to chill in the refrigerator and use an insulated cooler with enough ice to keep food at 40 degrees F. It's hard, but follow food directions to "keep refrigerated" or "use by" a certain date.

  • If you're going to "wing it" and eat take-out, either eat the food within two hours of purchase or buy and chill as previously instructed.

  • Keep the cooler in the car with the air-conditioning and the rest of the family, not in the trunk. Separate food from drinks, so the food cooler won't be opened constantly, and replenish the ice if it melts.

  • Marinate raw meat, fish or poultry in the refrigerator and not on the counter. Don't reuse the marinade unless you boil it for several minutes to kill bacteria from raw meat.

For cookouts, the NFPA recommends:

  • Let coals on the grill heat for 20 to 30 minutes, or until gray, before cooking food for safety and quality.

  • Only remove food from the cooler that will fit immediately on the grill.

  • Don't interrupt cooking because partial cooking encourages bacteria growth. If you cook ahead, cook food completely and cool it fast. Reheat food on the grill until it is steaming hot.

  • Don't partially cook hamburgers for later. Cook until completely done to ensure bacteria death.

  • Make an exploratory cut into any meats to check doneness, because on a grill the outside may look done before the inside does. Cook hamburgers to 160 degrees F and check their temperature using a meat thermometer. Make sure all juices have run clear and (in the case of raw poultry) there is no pink close to the bone. Also, cook all ready-to-eat meats thoroughly.

  • Never use the same plate or utensils for cooked meat that you did for preparing raw meat. This can cause cross contamination, where cooked meat picks up harmful microorganisms on the plate from the raw meat.

  • Store perishable leftovers on ice within two hours of cooking.

  • Bring the cooler(s) home in the air-conditioned part of the car. If food is refrigerator-cool to the touch when you get home, you should be able to eat leftovers safely.

Address: National Food Processors Association, 1350 I Street, NW Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 639-5900,

© 2001 Health Resources Publishing